In today’s hyper-competitive world, rapidly growing a new brand is a completely different challenge to marketing an already established brand, and totally different rules apply. As part of The Drum’s latest Deep Dive, Marketing Secrets of Fast-Growth Brands, Naeem Alvi-Assinder tells us his top tips.
Spend half an hour exploring #StrategyTwitter or #MarketingTwitter and you’ll quickly discover huge swathes of talented folks arguing passionately about the correct way to market brands.
On one end of the spectrum you’ll find the staunch strategists quoting lines from Sharp’s How Brands Grow (which is well worth a read), while on the other end you’ll find people posting fairly nauseating Gary Vaynerchuk quotes in serif fonts about how the number one rule in marketing is ’love’.
While I prefer to sit in the former camp, I’m not here to criticize either side of the fence, but rather to highlight that there are lots of ways to grow brands and that finding a clear blueprint for how to build the next Airbnb or Uber is like trying to find a needle in a stack of haystacks.
When I started my own brand strategy agency back in 2017, apart from wanting an excuse to spend every day working with brilliant creative minds, I also wanted to truly understand what it takes to turn a brand from completely unknown to a household name. Was there a set formula for doing so? Were the 4Ps still the best place to start? Could we identify common principles that would ensure rapid and predictable growth in both awareness and company value?
Around 150 brands in, we’ve discovered there is no repeatable golden formula but that there are definitely levers you can pull to grow brand awareness and increase the perceived value of your business. Here are some of the most powerful…
Capturing attention requires creativity and guts
Love them or hate them, brands like Oatly, BrewDog and Innocent got the bravery thing right in their early days. And, more recently, the dating app Thursday has reminded us that sometimes all you need is a sandwich board and a clever one-liner to stand out and drive massive awareness organically.
It’s not always about being super rebellious or cheeky. The recent explosion of Wordle and subsequent seven-figure sale to the New York Times was almost entirely driven by that clever share feature that fills Twitter with mysterious colored emoji tiles. It took me about three days of seeing them in my feed to finally look it up and give it a go.
Brand distinction is just as important as brand quality
When you’re a small fish in a massive ocean, standing out is critical. Having strong brand codes like a recognizable tone of voice or consistently using a bold unexpected color in your brand identity really does cut through the noise and help make you front of mind. Just look at Grind coffee with its beautiful and recognizable soft pink, or Weezy with its charming and shareable tone of voice.
But what these brands also get right is an investment into high-quality design, art direction and copywriting. If your brand is the first impression of your business, it needs to show people you’re a safe place to spend money. And that trust is much easier to obtain through a professional look and feel.
Focus on winning and holding on to customers
For a tech business, the most important metrics investors will look at is your ability to consistently grow your customer base, the value of those customers and how long they stick around.
Yes, you can boost your multiple by having strong branding, showcasing the value of your data or selling a long-term vision, but when it comes down to it money always talks.
If you are looking to grow and sell a tech brand (or any type of business) focus on the customer or user acquisition and retention, and find ways to quantify the value of these clearly.
Your product and service needs to match your marketing
I’m pleased to say it doesn’t happen all that often, but occasionally we’ll work with a business to help it raise brand awareness and generate leads, but then quickly realize the product or service doesn’t match up to the dream we’re selling. If your product isn something people truly love, they’ll spend more money with you and recommend you to other people. If your product sucks, great marketing and branding will just set you up for an even bigger fail.
Word of mouth is still your greatest weapon
When Clubhouse kicked off, I’m pleased to say I was one of the thousands of people who signed up, opened up one of the rooms, felt weird and then left never to use the app again. Looking back, it’s clear now Clubhouse was a massive hype bubble, but by using a waiting list in its marketing it fostered huge amounts of word-of-mouth marketing and, as a result, grew the platform rapidly and sold for millions.
Marketing needs real focus
While mass awareness is a good thing for most brands, it’s difficult to consistently achieve when budgets are tight and the business is tackling all the other challenges of rapidly scaling. Using more account-based marketing tactics and knowing exactly who you’re selling to is critical for building a sustainable sales engine.
Don’t focus on everyone. Focus on the ready buyers.
Sell when things are booming
Choosing the right time to sell is an art form. Sell too early and you’ll be leaving Scrooge McDuck levels of gold on the table. Sell too late and you’ll miss out on pretending you’re Scrooge McDuck.
In working with lots of tech brands through their selling journey, we’ve seen some nail it while some have to regroup and wait a few more years. But of the that have sold for big money, the key learning is that the best time to sell is when things are going bananas. If – like Wordle – you’re making headlines or your customers are flooding in thick and fast, now’s a good time to sell. It’ll help you secure a higher multiple and investors will feel the excitement.
Be a brilliant place to work
One strong belief I’ve always had is that the success of any business depends on its people. The talent you attract and develop will ultimately dictate the success of any strategy. When I think about the companies we’ve seen scale rapidly, their working cultures are almost cult-like in terms of belief and shared determination. It’s a mega-cheesy Branson line better placed on some hellish corner of LinkedIn, but as he quite rightly put it: “Invest in your people, and the rest will take care of itself.”
So, there you have it. Scaling a new brand requires a ton of grit, creativity and a good dollop of luck (particularly when budgets are low). But your size and agility do give you an advantage in the marketplace. Whether you’re looking to build and sell, or just build a great place to work, don’t be afraid to quickly change direction and try something new. Remember, it takes nearly two miles of travel and 15 minutes for an oil tanker to turn around, and a speed boat can do it in seconds.
Naeem Alvi-Assinder is founder and managing director of branding agency Notepad. For more Marketing Secrets of Fast-Growth Brands, check out The Drum’s latest Deep Dive.